USDA announces $65M program to bring in farm workers

The Biden-Harris administration today announced $65 million in grants available for the Farm Labor Stabilization and Protection Pilot Program to help employers bring in workers from northern Central America, through the Labor Department’s seasonal H-2A visa program.

USDA said, “The program makes good on a commitment made and announced as part of the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection and is funded by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.”

“Eligibility for this competitive grant program is limited to domestic agricultural employers who 1) anticipate meeting all Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security regulatory requirements for the H-2A program, including demonstrated effort to effectively recruit U.S.-based workers and hire all willing, able, and qualified U.S. workers;

“And 2) commit to, and indicate capacity to fulfill all baseline requirements, as well as any selected (supplemental) commitments that entail additive worker benefits and protections. Eligible employers include fixed-site employers, joint-employers, agricultural associations, and H-2A labor contractors.”

USDA continued, “The maximum award amount is $2 million and the minimum amount is $25,000 per grant agreement (including any sub-awardees). Award amounts will be determined based on the projected number of full-time equivalent agricultural employees, desired award level, as well as the competitive nature of the application.”

“Consistent with the H-2A requirements, applicants must demonstrate insufficient availability of a U.S.-based workforce. The grant window for each recipient is 24 months, allowing producers to use the grant over the course of two agricultural production seasons.”

Applications are due by Nov. 29 at 11:59 p.m.

“Our country is facing growing agriculture workforce challenges that jeopardize our farmers’ ability to be competitive, threatens the resiliency, abundance and safety of our food system, and has repercussions on our overall economy,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a news release.

“At the same time, record numbers of people are interested in living and working in the United States, including from northern Central America,” Vilsack said.

“This pilot program has been designed with significant input from immigration, labor, and agricultural stakeholders in an effort to help address these immediate challenges. The program will provide incentives designed to simultaneously benefit workers and employers, with the potential to inform the H-2A program, raise labor standards for farmworkers, and help alleviate our agricultural workforce challenges over the long term.

“In addition to helping agricultural producers recruit and retain workers, at the end of the program we will have tested new ways to promote accountability and improve working conditions for domestic and H-2A workers alike — demonstrating how employers benefit by doing right by workers. The effort will also facilitate safe, orderly and humane migration.

“This pilot should be a win for everyone along the agricultural supply chain, from the field to the dinner table,” Vilsack said.

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